The last email Stephen Abayateye received from his case worker at Migri said he’d get a decision on a Finnish residence permit within the month.
That was five weeks ago.
The previous emails he sent bounced back with an out of office message saying the case worker was on her summer holidays.
Abayateye, who lives in Ghana, was accepted for a six month metalworking entrepreneur course at the Adult Education Centre in Kouvola. He wants to complete his studies – he’s already paid the €2320 tuition fees in full – then get back to establish his own business installing solar panels in Accra.
He applied for an appointment in February, but the next available date was in April and his course started in May.
The 29-year old is one of more than a thousand foreign students who already got accepted to Finnish universities and colleges; applied for visas at Finnish embassies or consulates overseas; but who haven’t yet had their applications processed by Migri in Helsinki.
Migri blames a 7% increase in applications this summer and problems with seasonal workers for the delays.
“I had a desire to learn in Finland because I made my research, and I realised it is one of the best countries when it comes to education. It’s a dream country for me, and I know of their high level of education, far far better than here in Ghana” says the 29-year old in a phone call from his home in West Africa.
“The whole process is more or less like a death trap” he says, citing the arduous drive of more than 1200km by road through two neighbouring countries to central Nigeria to make his application, a trip he says is not without risks, and spending yet more money along the way.
Finland outsources its visa processing work in Nigeria and other countries to a company called VFS Global and Stephen Abayateye suggests one fix to avoid a months-long wait for an appointment time in another country, and the costs and risks of traveling there, would be to have an agreement for Ghanaians to apply at the VFS operation at the Danish embassy in Accra instead.
“This issue is making my life hell. They should let me know if they are not granting me the visa so that I can move on with my life” he says, dejected by the whole process and inefficiency on Migri’s part.
Different continent, same story
Thousands of kilometres away in Pakistan, it’s a similar story there from two talented students with places to study masters degrees at Finnish universities.
Twenty-seven year old Benedict Frederick is hoping to start his course in information technology systems and networks at Tampere University.
This year Tampere announced its admissions results about a month later than other Finnish universities, squeezing the time Frederick had to make an application.
Since there’s no Finnish embassy in Pakistan – it closed a number of years ago – he had a two month wait for the next appointment time in Abu Dhabi.
“It’s a wrecking situation for me. I am very disheartened because it’s a long process, we have to submit the application, send our documents to the university, wait for the admission result and then struggle begins” he tells News Now Finland.
“It’s a struggle to get an early appointment, another struggle to get a visa for Abu Dhabi, there’s a lot of expenses and you have to plan a lot of things. If I had to calculte it’s almost 10 months of hard work I’ve invested in it.” says Frederick who had to take a HOAS housing contract, and has been paying for his accommodation since 1st August.
The stories he’s heard from other Pakistani students who say they’ve gotten visas processed quickly through the Finnish embassies in Beijing and Moscow add to his feeling of helplessness.
The course at Tampere University already started, and although he’s been given one extension to starting his studies, Frederick has now been told if he doesn’t get to Finland by 30th September he won’t be admitted this year.
“It currently seems impossible for me. I don’t think I’ll get my residence permit in time” he says.
Another student from Pakistan Ahmad Bin Shafaat has been doing self-study modules while he waits for Migri to clear their backlog.
The 25-year old lives in Lahore, and has a ‘category A’ scholarship to study artificial intelligence at Aalto University in Espoo. It means he doesn’t have to pay any tuition fees, while another independent scholarship partially covers his living expenses.
He also had to get a visa and fly to Abu Dhabi for his interview appointment in early July and he’s still waiting on a residence permit from a system that’s clearly not fit for purpose.
“When I enquired about my application I was told the employees are on summer leave. Imagine that! Ninety percent of Migri’s employees were on holiday at this busiest time. I understand it’s a cultural thing, but with 5000 foreign students coming to Finland the relevant authorities are on leave? That’s not right” he tells News Now Finland.
His suggestion to fix the system is for the universities to do more to pressure Migri.
“Aalto should have an influence on Migri and ask why are our students being delayed? […] if I am missing my lectures that’s the only thing to be worried about. I need to physically be there. If I don’t get there I won’t attend exams and I will simply be failed in these subjects” he states.
“One experience doesn’t define the whole system”
While all three international students expressed their frustrations with the system, and that they find it inconceivable there should be summer holidays for so many Migri staff at one of their busiest times of the year, they’re not giving up on Finland yet.
All of them still want to come here to study, because Finland’s educational reputation is such a big draw.
“One experience doesn’t define the whole country or the whole system” says Pakistani student Benedict Frederick.
“They were not prepared to receive this many applications but you learn from experiences, and they can learn and be prepared for next year.”